The Art of the Free Throw Revisited During The NBA Finals

By Gregory Moore
Updated: June 10, 2006

SAN ANTONIO � �I used to hate my father for making me shoot free throws every day I was learning how to play the game of basketball. From the standpoint of a young kid, I didn�t see the significance of it. I wanted to dipsy do to the basket with finger rolls or try to hit a 16-foot jump shot fading to my left. Yet my father wanted me to get down the fundamentals of the game and he was trying to stress the importance of being a good free throw shooter. It wasn�t until much, much later in my life that I realized that I�m glad I can still hit free throws. George Gervin would always tell us San Antonio media that if there�s one thing he can still do is finger roll. Well if there is one thing this Texas boy can still do at the age of 39, it is shoot 7 out of 10 free throws. Why is that important to me? Because while my lay ups are a little less flashy and my jump shot is suspect, I can still make two points from the charity stripe and when you�re playing on a team, those free throw attempts add up to major points.� � an excerpt from a recent article entitled �The Art Of The Free Throw Is Killing Many Teams During March Madness� published on the Black Athlete Sports Network�s website.

It�s a funny thing about technology. If I wanted to be utterly lazy, I could have simply copied the entire article I wrote back in March, changed a few words and the title and then basically regurgitated the piece as something fresh for you to read. I could probably get away with such a feat because when it comes to the art of free throw shooting, today�s basketball players simply are not willing to spend the time necessary to develop the confidence needed to be proficient at this skill set. As much as had hated my father getting me to do free throws, even at the ripe old age of 39 and some change, I can still hit six out of ten free throws on any basketball court that is regulation in size. That means that if Shaquile O�Neal and I wanted to make a friendly wager and see who was buying the other dinner at Morton�s, I�m quite confident that I would be having two or three free meals on his paycheck. Why am I so confident in my abilities? It is because my father took the time to get me to develop the skill set. Well here�s the irony of this whole situation. I�m almost 40 and in no way near athletic shape to run up and down the court for even 20 minutes probably and I can hit free throws at 60%. Yet when the Miami Heat dropped the opening game to the Dallas Mavericks, it wasn�t based on the fact that the Mavericks out played the Heat because both teams were pretty horrible. The reason why the heat lost the game was because Shaq Diesel is too dang lazy in developing a good form in making the free throw shot. What�s worse is that Chip Englland or anyone else who is a shooting coach cannot alter that form because Shaq�s form is so bad that it is now a natural part of his arm motion.

There simply isn�t any excuse for a basketball player that has the ability to play in front of millions of people over his career to not be able to hit this shot. I look at Dirk Nowitzki and in the eight years he has been in the league he is an 86% free throw shooter. Shaq has been in the league for fourteen seasons and he�s just a 52% free throw shooter. For someone who is supposed to be a leader on his team, that�s a poor example of leadership. Yet Shaq isn�t the only one with this fallacy. Over at least the past decade or so, the free throw percentage for the NBA has been dropping in dramatic fashion. It used to be that certain positions were quite fluent at the art. Remember how it was almost automatic for guys like Larry Bird, Isaiah Thomas, Magic Johnson and others to hit a free throw during crunch time. Byron Russell was one of the best in the game. Yet now when you look at the whole landscape, I don�t think I could name you one AMERICAN NBA ball player who can hit the free throw at an 80% clip with regularity. And if it seems that I am singling out the American ball players I am. Like anything else in this game, the American ball players think it�s more important to be flashy and have camera presence rather than be fundamentally sound across the board. If you look at this series between the Heat and the Mavericks, it is very indicative as to how the mindset is in the game right now.

If there is ever a way to predict who would win a game, it would have to come from this stat line. Right now, as things look, I cannot confidently say that the Heat will win this series and I base that largely on how their superstar shoots from the charity stripe. Looking at Dallas, it looks like this team can get the job done because when the game comes to a crunch time aspect, they have the shooters who can make the free throws with no problem. For a league that has a bunch of millionaires running up and down the court, you would think that it would want more of its players to have the shooting touch of the Mavericks at the line than what they have. After all, these guys are paid to hit the big shot and there is no shot bigger than one in which umpteen million people are looking at you.


Recently a reporter asked me in an interview if we were watching the next legendary coach being made in Avery Johnson. I told the reporter that what we are witnessing is a young coach getting the chance to be coaching a very good team in the NBA Finals. It seems that Black America wants to get enamored with Johnson because he is the coach of a very high profile team that has a very high profile owner in Mark Cuban. Yet I don�t recall anyone becoming that enamored with a Black coach when Lenny Wilkins was coaching in the league. I don�t remember too many people saying how great it was for K.C. Jones to have won the number of titles that he won when he coached possibly one of the greatest Boston Celtics teams in the �modern� day of the NBA (that would be post tape delay folks). Nobody has said how great it is for Mike Woodson to have the troubles of coaching the Atlanta Hawks. Nobody has mentioned anything about Nate McMillian, Doc Rivers, Bernie Bickerstaff, Byron Scott or Maurice Cheeks.

It�s not that nobody should not be saying how great of a job that Johnson is doing this post season. What he is doing is remarkable in the sense that nowhere in the history of the league has a first year head coach been able to amass the success that Johnson has done in such a short amount of time. Yet with that said, Johnson is a far cry from what consider �legendary� coaches. The problem with this moniker is that �legendary� is so subjective that there is no true measure as to who is deserving of the status and who isn�t. But for argument sake, let me try to define what a legendary coach may be and that can be done in one definition: body of work.

Picture a coach�s resume as a book. For some coaches like Wilkins, Red Auerbach, Dr. Jack Ramsey and others, the book is thick and in multiple volumes. For others, like Scott, Cheeks and Rivers, the book is barely getting out of the first few chapters. Where does AJ fall in this example? Try the cover and the cover artwork. Johnson is just now beginning to get his feet wet in the coaching circles. He hasn�t amassed any substantial amount of wins or tenure at the position to even be considered a legend. Again this isn�t slighting him for the accomplishment that he has currently made but simply pointing out that he has a very long road ahead of him before such a moniker is even bestowed upon him.